On the afternoon of Nov. 30, 1936, people at the busy downtown intersection of 3rd and Wells Streets were startled by the appearance of a gorilla walking a lion.
The former was actually a familiar enough sight in Milwaukee, as William "Gorilla" Jones was a famous boxer who’d fought in Milwaukee seven times. In fact, after winning five elimination bouts in the National Boxing Association’s middleweight championship tournament here in ’31, Jones was crowned 160-pound titlist when he knocked out Odonne Piazza at the Auditorium on Jan. 25, 1932.
The Memphis-born Jones was said to have gotten his nickname on account of his dark skin and long arms, and his "jungle dance" in the ring. Its ugly racial connotation – and the fights he lost on command to inferior white boxers as a cost of continuing his career – were only somewhat counter-balanced by Jones’s election to the Boxing Hall of Fame.
Outside the ring he was very flamboyant, and when Jones came to town in search of his eighth straight local win, he brought along the lion he’d received earlier in ’36 from a fan (reportedly big game hunter Clyde Beatty). Jones put a gem-studded collar around the animal’s neck and walked him around on a leash.
"Jungle Kid" accompanied Jones to Richie Mitchell’s gym on 3rd and Wells (now a parking lot) and behaved himself while Gorilla sparred four rounds with local welterweight Billy Miller and then worked 10 more on the punching bags.
"Kitten proves lucky mascot," said the headline over a photo of Jones and his pet lion in the Sentinel the next morning. A few nights later, it took Jones just two minutes and 45 seconds to bring Mickey Bottone down at the Auditorium. "Jungle Kid" could’ve done it even faster, but not as stylishly.